To celebrate the 600th birthday of Johannes Gutenberg in 2000, the "Freunde der Universität Mainz e.V." founded the Johannes Gutenberg endowed professor as a non-profit foundation. They did so to promote the image and appeal of Mainz University. The guest professorship is intended to give a fresh approach to teaching and research, convey the impression of a living science to the public, and provide a platform for debating current issues.
The endowed professorship is reserved for personalities who, due to their academic contributions or significance in cultural and public life, are in a position to connect the points of view of various different subjects and develop interdisciplinary approaches.
When creating the foundation, the "Freunde der Universität Mainz e.V." understood that the university could not finance high-ranking guest professors using public funds, but had to rely on the help of private initiatives. The foundation finances the endowed professorship through private donations and proceeds.
The endowed professorship was awarded to the cultural historian and winner of the Peace Price of the German Booksellers' Association, Fritz Stern (2000), the leading representative of evolutionary biology and pioneer of sociobiology, Bert Hölldobler (2001), the former German Minister for Foreign Affairs Hans-Dietrich Genscher (2002), the President of the Alexander von Humboldt foundation, Wolfgang Frühwald (2003), former executive director of the environmental program of the United Nations (UNEP), Klaus Töpfer (2004), composer and conductor, Peter Ruzicka (2005), experimental physicist from Vienna, Anton Zeilinger (2006), immunologist, Fritz Melchers (2007), literary critics and social scientists, Jan Philipp Reemtsma (2008) and Karl Kardinal Lehmann (2009), neuropsychologist and cognitive scientist, Angela Friederici (2010), as well as the art historian from Basel, Gottfried Boehm (2011).